Project

Reconstructing Value: Cotton Culture and Blackness after Emancipation

Program

ACLS Fellowship Program

Abstract

Slavery’s abolition put intense pressure on the relationship between global cotton and racial blackness, and made it the focus of contending narratives and images in the years following the US Civil War. Many of these representations reaffirmed racist ideology toward stabilizing racial capitalism’s expropriation of value from black people. Others reflected the embrace of cotton by African Americans as a source of economic self-determination and a medium for self-definition. This interdisciplinary project draws together a diverse array of representational forms—from novels, fine art, and black vaudeville, to cotton expositions, postcards, and free trade manifestoes—and makes cotton culture a frame within which to examine how black racial meaning was produced, used, and lived after emancipation.